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  • Keegan Thomson

Neglected and overlooked

THE WEST is often dealt a poor hand when it comes to health infrastructure but there

is no greater example of the west being forgotten than the story of Ian and Anne Whittaker.

For the last 50 years Ian has been in a wheelchair after an accident left him a paraplegic. Due to his condition he needs to attend numerous appointments but the closest spinal unit for him is 90 minutes away at Randwick.

Mrs Whittaker has written to the Health Minister, and has been a constant advocate and lobbyist, to urge the government to bring a spinal clinic, or a specialist, out west.

“There are all these hospitals out west and yet we don’t have anything,” Mrs Whittaker said.

The issue with spinal injuries is that they can’t always be treated by normal doctors or nurses, said Mrs Whittaker.

“Sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing. We’ve been sent home without any doctor actually fixing any of Ian’s problems.

“At the local hospitals out west the nursing staff do not understand,” she said.

According to the Health Minister there are more than 5000 people across the state with debilitating spinal cord injuries, which means every single one of them will need to attend either Royal North Shore or Randwick Hospital, at some point in time no matter where they live.

Mr Whittaker says it doesn’t make sense that there is only two hospitals to cover such a broad area.

“There are only two hospitals that have spinal units and they cover Canberra and all of New South Wales,” said Mr Whittaker.

“Even if they live in Wagga they’ll need to travel all the way up here.

“I think it is necessary for there to be another spinal clinic in the state, even if it was at Wagga, we still need something for all the other people out west,” he said.

The only reply Mrs Whittaker received from the state government is a detailed list of places around Sydney were Mr Whittaker can receive treatment. The only issue is that Mrs Whittaker says there is no one at any local hospitals who can help them.

“It is discrimination,” Mrs Whittaker said. “In western Sydney we don’t have a specialist doctor, we don’t have clinic or a spinal unit. It is just wrong.”

“We’ve argued and tried to get something out here for 25 years.

“If Ian gets really sick and he needs an ambulance, they’ll only take him to the local hospitals, but the issue is they don’t have the correct equipment or facilities to treat him, so he will just sit there until I can take us to Randwick,” Mrs Whittaker said.

She detailed a story in which a specialist spinal doctor from Randwick Hospital had to call in and explain to the staff at Nepean the correct treatment for one of Mr Whittaker’s ailments.

Nepean Hospital last year announced a major funding boost of half a billion dollars for many areas of the hospital. There was no spinal injury clinic or specialist centre outlined in that announcement.

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